A person carrying groceries turns the corner onto State Street in downtown Ellsworth on March 3. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The Ellsworth City Council voted 6-1 Monday night against a resolution that would have declared the city a Second Amendment sanctuary.

The rejection in Ellsworth follows the recent approval of similar resolutions in a handful of small Maine towns taking stances against federal gun control measures that have yet to pass Congress.

The council’s vote against the measure, submitted by Councilor Michelle Kaplan, came after Glenn Moshier, the city manager and police chief, expressed concern for how the resolution might create ambiguity or confusion for the city’s police officers, who take an oath to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions.

Kaplan argued in favor of the resolution, though she ended up voting not to support it. Gene Lyons was the only councilor who voted in favor of the resolution.

Kaplan, who described herself as a law-abiding gun owner, said residents asked her to propose the resolution, which would help send a message to Congress to not enact additional restrictions on gun ownership that she claimed would be a “blatant violation of our constitutional rights.” Among the possible restrictions would be expanded background checks, limits on ammunition, increased taxes on gun sales and other “barriers to entry,” Kaplan said.

City Council Chair Dale Hamilton, who described himself as a supporter of the Second Amendment, said he had concerns about any city declaring itself a “sanctuary” from federal law, whether the law pertains to immigration or the right to carry firearms.

“It sets a dangerous precedent,” Hamilton said. “You can’t decide when you want to be a sanctuary city and when you don’t.”

Other municipalities in Maine that have considered and approved similar resolutions against proposals that they say would violate the Second Amendment include Paris, Fort Fairfield and Van Buren.

Approximately 40 people weighed in on the debate during Monday night’s meeting, either in person or by emailing comments to Hamilton that he read aloud, with sentiment on the resolution more or less evenly split.

John Linnehan told members of the council that each of them swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, while Gwen Clark said she “wouldn’t feel safe living in a city that didn’t support the Second Amendment.”

Todd Little-Siebold countered that drafting the city budget and managing the city’s handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are two far greater priorities for the council than trying to intervene in federal politics.

“It is unnecessary and purely symbolic,” Little-Siebold said. “Keep your focus on local issues. Don’t play into the gun lobby scare tactics.”

Councilor Heather Grindle said she shares many of the concerns of people who do not want additional restrictions on gun ownership, but that she is hesitant to pick and choose which federal laws Ellsworth should single out for support. She also said she wanted to learn more about how the resolution might affect local law enforcement.

“I’m listening and I share your frustration, but I’m not quite there yet,” Grindle said.

Members of the council agreed that, whatever their vote was Monday on Kaplan’s proposal, they would be able to consider a similar declaration of support for gun ownership rights at a future meeting, if another proposal were submitted.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....